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4 levels of law

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  • 1. Aquinas’ four channels of Natural Law Aquinas believed that there were four channels or ‘levels’ to the natural moral law. The eternal law represents the absolute and eternal aspect of natural moral law. This channel represents how natural law will be the same for all people in all times, regardless of culture or society. In this way, it suggests that a human in Greek times should be able to access the same ethical laws as someone in contemporary society. This is similar to the absolute nature of Natural Law which Aristotle argued for over a thousand years before. The Divine law is the channel of law which is received from God and is often seen in religious commands. We normally find the Divine channel of Natural Law in scripture such as the Bible. We see many examples of Divine commands given in Holy Scripture such as the Ten Commandments, or the parables of Jesus Christ. Aquinas believes that through the scripture, God has told humans how he wants them to behave in order to be pleasing to Him and ultimately reach the afterlife. This departs from Aristotle’s idea of Natural Law, as Aristotle did not see it as a God given law. Some have said that Aquinas ‘Theologised’ Aristotle’s Natural Moral Law by adding this channel. The natural channel of Natural Law is where Gerard Hughes tells us in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy’ that humans become distinct from animals. It is where God’s reasoning meets human reasoning. In this sense, humans have both the ‘Divine’ law in order to learn how God wants us to act, but also the ‘natural’ law where we can use our human reason in order to discern how we should behave. This means that all humans, even those who do not have access to the Holy Scripture, can act in a truly ethical manner. Again, this is similar to Aristotle’s Natural Moral Law as he also believed it separated us from the plants and animals because of its reliance on reason. Human Law, finally, is our manifestation of Natural Moral Law in day to day life. The social rules, often echoed in Government laws, are, Aquinas believes, our way of making sure all humans follow Natural Law. The most obvious example of human law in action in ‘do not kill’ which dominates the law in most societies. Aquinas believes that whatever society we are living in, we will tend to create similar rules to govern society which are, in fact, pleasing to God. This again echoes the thoughts of Aristotle who believed Natural Law remained timely.

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